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Celebrating Craftsmanship: The Principles of Sanding Wood

Ask This Old House general contractor, Tom Silva, explains why he loves sanding and what goes into a good sanding job.

In this video, Ask This Old House general contractor, Tom Silva explains just why he enjoys sanding so much and how it gets him into the zone. He describes what he looks for in a good sanding job and how important sanding can be for the finished product.

Tom breaks down the uses of a belt sander, finishing sander, and a random orbit sander. He explains the strengths and weaknesses and goes through what types of jobs would be best for each specific sander.

Facts About Belt Sanders

  • Start before setting down.
  • Make sure you keep flat on the surface. It is an aggressive tool and with any sort of tilt, it will create a groove.
  • Follow the grain.
  • A belt sander is great for tough jobs on flat surfaces. It can remove a lot of material quickly and is good for larger projects.

Facts About Finish Sanders

  • Good for materials that only require higher grit, light sanding.
  • Oscillates back and forth, so it can get into tight corners.
  • Slower and gentler than most sanders. Therefore, any large areas will be very time-consuming.

Facts About Random Orbit Sanders

  • Good middle ground between a belt sander and a finish sander.
  • Rotates in a circle at varying speeds, hence “random”.
  • Works fast and can get a lot of material off.
  • It is the best kind of sander to work through a variety of grits.


Tom demonstrated how a belt sander, a finishing sander, and a random orbit sander work differently from one another.